Using Word and Office 365 to streamline assessment feedback

In my last few posts I have been explaining some uses of Office 365 to create collaborative activities using PowerPoint or Excel. In this post, I am going to look at Microsoft Word. Word could be used to create a collaborative learning activity in a similar way to the PowerPoint example, but it is set so that only one person can edit one paragraph at a time – therefore careful consideration is required when designing such an activity. In this example I am going to look at the mechanism of student feedback following assessment and h the collaborative nature can be very useful.

If I look at what might happen in colleges, universities and some schools at the present:

  1. Teacher produces an assignment brief and gives this to the learner.
  2. Learner completes assignment and hands it in.
  3. Teacher marks the work and fills in a feedback sheet, hands work and feedback sheet back to learner.
  4. Learner fills in the box on feedback sheet where they reflect on the assignment and their action plan to solve any updates required.
  5. At end of term, teacher realises learner hasn’t updated their assignment – contacts learner.
  6. Learner has lost feedback sheet so has forgotten what needs doing.
  7. Teacher re-issues feedback sheet (luckily they have a copy).
  8. Student does updates, hands work back in.
  9. Teacher remarks work, fills in anew feedback sheet with the additional feedback and final grade.

Although the above may sound like a tedious drawn out exaggeration, I am sure that many will see similarities with current practices  – and whatever ones system, whether paper and pen or electronic there is almost always a significant amount of files moving from place to another and there is seldom an efficient loop where the students use the tutors feedback to help them with their updates or future assignments.

So here is one suggestion. We create a single Word document that is going to contain all of the information relating to that assignment – and this will be used by both tutor and student. This will contain the brief for the assessment, the list of criteria being covered/assessed, and area for the student to reflect on the assignment, areas for the teacher to give feedback, and space for them to add additional information if the work is referred and needs to be upgraded.

Once this document has been created – all the tutor has to do is to share this with the learner through OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive). The learner and the tutor are now accessing the same document. If the tutor wants to have a situation where all of the students marked work is returned at the same time, rather than piecemeal – they can quickly remove the students sharing rights, mark all of the work and then re-share it.

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

One of the key reasons why this technique hasn’t worked in the past, is the verification process needs to see the different versions of the work and the feedback given – which in turn lead to the notion of creating lots of different documents. The beauty of using Office 365 and OneDrive is there is a built in history and version mechanism.

With this you can see any previous versions including who made the changes and you can restore or download any of the versions at a later date if required by an IV or EV.

Image showing the history options for a file including the ability to restore, download and who made the changes and when

Image showing the option to restore or download a previous version of the same file.

Having one file to deal with rather than lots of files is easier for the tutor and the student to manage. There are less chances of error due to people using the wrong version of those files, and from a teaching and learning perspective having all of the information in one place for the student is far more likely for them to reflect on the feedback and change their behaviour as a result.

I hope that as organisations start to use Office 365 more and more, there is a real effort for people to think about what they are doing and why – and how these technical advancements can make a huge difference to our overall efficiency and effectiveness.

Using Excel and Office 365 to create learning activities

In my previous posts I have:

  1. Introduced the idea of Office 365 and how it can be used to create collaborative activities.
  2. Given an example of how PowerPoint can be used to create a collaborative activity.

In this post I am going to look at using Excel to create a collaborative learning activity.

Many people struggle (some are scared of it) with Excel which is a shame as it can be a superbly powerful learning tool – and it can be used in any teaching area not just maths, accountancy etc. There are many possible uses that I could list here, but I will stick with a couple of simple examples.

If I was teaching research methods or statistics, and wanted to investigate the idea of 2 sets of data and what the correlation is between them, then a simple way to do this is for each student to work out their height (m) and their shoe size (European) record these in a table, then everyone plots a scatter graph of everyones results – and we look at the line of best fit, standard deviation etc. Yes the constructing of a graph on paper with a ruler is an important skill to learn, but on this occasion I want to focus on the way that the correlation changes as more points are recorded, and for that I want to speed up the plotting process, so I am going to use Excel to help me.

Image of an excel sheet with a data entry table on the left, and the resultant grpah on the right

Example of an excel sheet teaching the principle of data correlation

So I have created  a simple spreadsheet which has a data entry table – I have identified each student with the letters A-K, and I have colour coded the area they need to enter their data into with a green shading. I have unlocked these cells and then protected the whole sheet, so when the learners add their data, they cannot accidentally alter or delete any of the workings. On the right you will notice that I have pre-created a graph that will plot the data as it is added, and then underneath the table I have created some simple statistical functions to identify mean, mode, median etc of the data as it is entered.

So having created the above sheet, all I need to do is save it to my OneDrive (new name for SkyDrive) – share it with my learners (see previous post), and then allocate each learner a letter between A-K. They edit the sheet in the web browser, entering the 2 pieces of information against their letter. All of the students will be editing the same resource at the same time, so they will see the graph and the numbers change in real time as the amount of data added grows. The beauty of this is that by speeding up the capturing and plotting process, I can spend more time helping the students to understand the significance of what the graph and the numbers mean, and I could reuse the same template to add my own dummy data to show the effect of anomalies, different types of correlation etc.

Any form of class experiment which involves the capturing and sharing of class data can be achieved with this method. If the data entry is more complex than my example, then you could create a sheet within the workbook for one student, then duplicate this lots of times so each student has their own sheet.

Another useful feature is that it is possible to embed sections of the file (e.g. the results table, or the final chart) back into a piece of web space (e.g. the VLE, or a blog) – so below is an example of the final chart – as the file is used and data is entered this will automatically update.


With the above example all students could see (and potentially alter) all other student’s entries into the resource. This may not be desirable – e.g. if you are capturing sensitive data (e.g. if working out Body Mass Index and asking students for their Weight and Height) or you could ask students to feedback what they have learnt, what they have found difficult, what they would like to recover in a revision session etc.

What you could do is create a single Excel file asking for the data that you want. Once happy with this, you duplicate that file however many times you have students. You then share each file with the individual student. This may sound complex but is a lot easier and quicker than you would imagine. You now have a mechanism for students to give individual feedback to you – you as the teacher can see all of the files, so easy for you to see the information – and if you are really keen, then you could create an ‘overview file’ which uses simple excel formula to pull the data from each students file into a single dashboard type file. This last suggestion doesn’t update the data live as it is entered, but everytime that the file is opened it will pull through the latest data at that point.

If we are using Excel to create learning objects then it is beneficial to make the appearance of the file as tidy and uncluttered as possible – which I have discussed in a previous blog post – https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/simple-formatting-tips-in-excel-to-improve-quality-of-learning-materials/

In my next post in this series I will give an example of using Word to create a collaborative activity.

PowerPoint doesn’t have to be passive

I recently had a heated discussion where someone was demonising PowerPoint because of the negative impact he thought it was having on education due to the often passive nature of its use, and it is true the vast majority of PowerPoint use within education would probably fall into the category of poor, with some being good, and a small percentage being excellent. In fact one of the things that persuaded me back in 2006 to go freelance, was in the space of a few weeks, I sat through 3 awful passive PowerPoint presentations about the importance of and how to do active learning.

But it is not the technologies fault – the technology is designed to do a job, and it does the job it is designed to do well. What is at fault is the people using it badly, and for that we need to go back to identify why, and it usually comes down to poor CPD for staff, and low expectations of what PowerPoint can do, which isn’t helped by many senior people in education standing up at conferences and the like and delivering appalling presentations.

In my early years of teaching, as I migrated from the then staple diet of death by OHT (Over Head Transparency) to using PowerPoint, my first attempts at PowerPoint were I am afraid what I would classify now as Death by PowerPoint, but I very quickly had one of those light bulb moments – I made a decision to never do death by PowerPoint again. Once I had made that decision everything else followed easily. I (like many other teachers) know what death by powerpoint looks like – so if I know what it looks like, if I am doing something that is heading that way, I don’t do it – I do something else. The key to me was bringing back the active elements of learning – getting the learners to do something, rather than just look at a load of pre-prepared bullet points on the screen that I talk about and expect learning to take place.

I worked on a principle of breaking my sessions down into smaller chunks of time, usually about 10-15 minutes. So I would talk for a bit, they would do for a bit, I would talk again, they would do something different, we would have a class discussion etc. It was this idea that lead me to creating countdown timers for PowerPoint which helped me manage the time for the different elements of active learning. I then discovered a really wonderful tool of the editable text box, allowing me to capture notes during a session, as part of a discussion activity or carrying out a ‘for’ and ‘against’ analysis. This saved me huge amounts of preparation time and hugely improved the activeness of the session.

I then used hyperlinking to create non-linear presentations, which has an array of uses and can be used to create some very effective learner directed resources, and there are many other things that I have done, and still do, all of which is designed to make the learning process active.

Going back to my opening statement of this post, the person I was discussing with, was all for promoting Prezi, which I don’t have a problem with as such (it doesn’t do anything for me, but I am a high level PowerPoint user) – but the issue is the same, unless staff have proper CPD and support we just get death by Prezi rather than Death by PowerPoint (only with Prezi you can get a bit of sea sickness thrown in for good measure).

When I first started working as a freelance trainer, a lot of the training that I ran was PowerPoint related. Over the years the amount of PowerPoint training I run has dwindled – I think many see it is ‘old hat’ and not needing training, which I wish was the case, but whilst I keep seeing lots of really bad PowerPoint presentations, I am very aware that there is still a need for teaching staff at all levels of education to have good quality PowerPoint training.

I am redeveloping some of my PowerPoint training sessions, one of which is titled ‘Making PowerPoint Active not Passive’ – which is introduced in the following video.

For further information visit http://www.a6training.co.uk/PowerPointActive.php

If you are interested in high quality PowerPoint training, that can be (and has been) delivered to all levels from Nursery through to HE , then visit http://www.a6training.co.uk/ for details.

Adding subtitles to YouTube videos using CaptionTube

YouTube is a wonderful resource, it works on just about all internet enabled devices, it hardly ever goes wrong, it is easy to use and although there is a lot of low quality rubbish on there (in my opinion), there is also huge amounts of really useful high quality videos that we can use in education to enhance our teaching and learning practices.

A feature of YouTube that many don’t know about, is the auto-captioning option – in other words YouTube creates a transcript of the video without you having to do anything. If you are watching a video on the YouTube page and you want to see the captions, then there is a button below the video (currently to the right of the where it says ‘add to’) which is the transcript button – this brings up the transcript as a timeline below the videos and automatically advances with the video. This can be great for learners that have a disability (e.g. are deaf), but can also be really useful to find a key point within a video.

For example I often use short sections of the excellent TED talk video of Ken Robinson talking about schools killing creativity. If I want to locate a certain section within that video, I use the automatic captions that appear below it to locate the section that I want.

Because the transcripts are computer generated, they do contain errors – and depending on the clarity of the voice and the background noise of the video will determine the accuracy of the transcript. For some reason my voice never does well with automated speech to text systems, including YouTube.

However if you do want to override the automatic captions that YouTube creates with your own ones, then this is very easy to do – and for this I use a service called CaptionTube This is a simple system where you sign in (using a Google Account) you locate the video you want to caption (which could be your own or someone elses) and then you play the video pausing it at intervals to add your captions. If the video is your own, then you can add the captions to it there and then, if it isn’t your video then you can send the transcript to them to see if they want to upload it.

The following video (by John Skidgel) introduces the basics of CaptionTube.

Here is a video of mine that I captioned using this method. This took me 12 minutes in total from opening the page to my captions appearing on the video on YouTube.

Adding Captions to a video is a simple way to increase the accessibility of a resource, as well as potentially increasing the number of people that see your video, as the contents of the captions will get picked up by search engines (if the video is set to being public and listed).

Using Google Docs (Drive) to create a collaborative learning activity

Google Docs or Google Drive as it has changed it’s name to, is a suite of office tools that work via the internet and store the different files in the cloud (on the internet) rather than locally onto the computer. This has huge advantages in terms of the files are backed up automatically, can be edited on a variety of different computers (including Smart phones) and they allow multiple people to contribute or view the files.

It is the ability to allow multiple people to edit that makes Google Docs an excellent collaborative learning tool, as it is possible to set up activities where different learners are accessing and editing the same document at the same time – this means that they can see and respond to what each other is doing in real time.

An example of such an activity is one that I ran recently used at a training event as part of the Advanced Teacher Learning Coaches programme. This took me about 10 minutes to create and set up, so nice and quick, and the learning experience was far greater than doing this in a non-collaborative way. If you want to use the activity above (possibly swapping in your own websites for your particular area), click on the link above, then save a copy of this (from the file menu) – you can then alter the sharing settings to allow other people to edit it. A video showing how to do this can be found below.

Using Google Docs for collaborative activities – is a great way of working with higher order thinking skills. What I will often do is set a simple task where each person or small group of people have to edit an area within the document answering a question or questions. What I then do is ask everyone to swap areas (e.g. so they are looking at someone else’s contribution) – I can then ask a more challenging question – such as critique the other person’s responses, or present a counter argument to their point, or ask them to identify which of the points made by the first group would also be examples of….. etc. and if time allows, then I sometimes set a third question where they look at a third different set of responses and answer another challenging task or question.

Another really useful feature within Google Docs, is that you can see the revision history – so you can identify which people have contributed most (and when) – which can be useful if doing this as part of an assessed activity – and you can roll back to earlier versions of a document, so if someone does something very damaging (e.g. deleting everything, writing something defamatory, or using it to cyber bully) you can roll back to an earlier version (or restore point).

The fact that these documents will work on most if not all Smart phones makes this a really powerful, versatile and truly mobile opportunity.

Using a colour combination chart when creating resources

In my early days of teaching, and just as I was starting to get my head around the tools that were available to me (PowerPoint) – I was faced with a multitude of colours that I could choose as background or font. The problem is that certain colours don’t go very well together. Some are obvious – such as having dark text on a dark background, or light text on a light background (but I am still suprised how I often I see this mistake made), and others are less obvious like using green and red or blue and red.

Then I created a very simple tool that helped me when choosing colours, and saved myself time in the process. I created a grid where I had a variety of combinations of backgrounds, and fonts in each of the different colour combinations – by glancing at this, I can then see which colour combinations work better than others, without having to keep changing the settings until I get something that works. This grid was stuck to the wall next to my desk.

I also used this when I had a student with a visual impairment in my class. I took the grid to him, and asked him which colour combination he found best – he looked at the grid and quickly said black text on an orange background. So I quickly changed the colour schemes of my presentations for that unit (which because I had used the Master Slide was very quick to do) – and as a result of that (and other simple changes I made to my teaching) – in my sessions he didn’t need to have the note taker that he needed in all the other lessons he attended – which for him, was a wonderful experience (as well as saving the College lots of money).

The grid (which I still use) is available for others if they want to use, and can be located on my website towards the bottom of http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_powerpoint.php. Although I originally produced this for the use of PowerPoint, this works with any technology where you have the option to change colours, and can be a really useful way of increasing accessibility of learning resources.

The video below introduces this chart.

A good practice guide for PowerPoint

Many people think that PowerPoint is old hat – there are lots of negative posts about the bad use of PowerPoint, and I have noticed that many organisation are no longer offering PowerPoint training to staff as there is a belief that everyone knows about PowerPoint nowadays. Sadly this is not the case; I regularly have to endure really bad PowerPoint presentations – often from people that are very high up in organisations promoting either the use of technology or quality in education – yet their PowerPoint use is appalling.

A few years ago when I was running PowerPoint training regularly, people often asked me for some guidance information about what they should or shouldn’t do when using PowerPoint, and so I pulled together a document, detailing the things that I do, when I am using PowerPoint. Most of the considerations are based on straight forward good teaching and learning practice, and things that make the presentation more accessible to disabled learners. My document isn’t intended as a step by step ‘how to guide’ (as this would then become obsolete every time a different version of PowerPoint came out) – instead it says what should be done and why. This means that this document could be used for any presentation medium not just PowerPoint.

I struggled to think of a good name for my document, so in the end I just called it ‘The Dave Foord Guide to PowerPoint’ – simply because that is what it is – it is the set of rules/practices that I personally follow when using PowerPoint.

The guide is available for others to download, print and reuse from the PowerPoint section of my website http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_powerpoint.php

If any organisations would like me to run training for their staff on the effective use of presentation tools such as PowerPoint, then please contact me, my details are at http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php

Below is a short video introducing ‘The Dave Foord Guide to PowerPoint’